It’s Time For Some Madness

I don’t know much about NCAA basketball. What I do know is that my bracket is 100% correct, and I’ll tell you why. I didn’t choose teams based on research or how they are playing right now. I didn’t select a higher seed over lower seed because they have mismatches all over the court. No, I chose teams based on a random process known as the spray and pray. The spray and pray technique consists of closing your eyes, hitting the mouse a bunch of times, and moving onto the next round.

MADDHowever, I don’t have any wild picks this year, everything is rather cookie cutter. I do have number one seed Gonzaga bombing out in the Sweet 16 because my Alma Mater San Diego State beat them a few years ago. I also needed to lose a number one seed. Sorry Gonzaga, you had to go. But don’t worry Zags, Kansas will be joining you in that Sweet 16 pity party after losing to Michigan. Why you might ask? Well I know more about football, and Kansas would definitely lose to Michigan in football. Following that genius logic, I have Florida crushing Michigan and then cruising past Indiana to the final.

In the Final they will meet another number one seed, Louisville. Thankfully Billy Donovan doesn’t win another championship and Louisville wins by 7 points. The final score will be 56 to 49, not a point higher or lower, I stake my very made-up reputation on this bracket. And when I’m wrong, I’ll have the satisfaction knowing that my bracket based on nothing will do as well as most others, because that’s the beauty of this NCAA Tournament: you can never truly predict the madness.

Click here to see my bracket ESPN – Tournament Challenge – Jason3231989 1


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Left Side, Strong Side

There is always a cyclical nature in sports. We never thought we would see another Doctor J or Michael Jordon, but we could currently be watching the greatest player ever to play basketball. Everyone believed that Joe Montana’s retirement would leave a void in football, and in stepped Steve Young. We are currently undergoing a similar transition in the Barclays Premier league with Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale.

ryan_giggs-892Ryan Giggs, or the “Welsh Wizard,” has been an icon for more than 20 years in England’s Premier League. He’s on the eve of his 1000th match in his professional career and has only ever played for Manchester. His longevity speaks to his dedication and work ethic in keeping his body and mind in the right conditioning to play in the best soccer league in the world; his immense talent doesn’t hurt either. He has provided stability at left wing and has been one of the main ingredients to Manchester United’s 20 year dominance in domestic and European football.

Giggs has just signed on for one more year in Manchester, but he is reaching the end of his career and isn’t an every game player anymore. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has to use him in certain situations to ensure he stays healthy and effective throughout the grueling season. He has played a vital role this season providing leadership and expertise on and off the field. With Wayne Rooney struggling from the penalty spot this season, Giggs has stepped up and continued his streak of perfection from the spot in the Premier League.


While Giggs has slowly been fading, fellow Welshman Gareth Bale has come storming into the spotlight. The 23-year-old Bale joined the Tottenham Hotspurs in the 07-08 season from South Hampton. He famously turned down Gigg’s current club, Manchester United, with the fear of not getting any playing time. He went to the Spurs and after switching from left-back to left-wing, he hasn’t looked back.

Bale had many admirers but it wasn’t until he scored his Champions league hat-trick against Italian giants Inter Milan that he became a star. Since the, he has received international acclaim for his amazing ability on the field. His defense is lacking, and he has picked up some injuries in the past few years, but few are more lethal charging down the field than Bale. He doesn’t just score goals, his pinpoint crosses and incredible pace help set the table for his teammates to score on many different occasions.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Old Trafford

Bale has been in top form recently scoring 8 goals in 6 matches, the last being a magical blast from over 30 yards. He gives a lot of credit to his new manager André Villas-Boas for being more tactical and giving more direction compared to former manager Harry Redkapp. Much like Ryan Giggs, Bale has progressed under a strong manager whose ideology fits his own. His recent play has led many to compare him to arguably the world’s best player, Christiano Ronaldo. Both wingers use their incredible power and pace to cut defenses apart and both possess mesmerizing free kick ability. However, Bale has a long way to go before he is in the same class as the likes of Ronaldo and Messi. To be like them and Giggs, Bale needs to play at a top level on a consistent basis.
English soccer has been lucky to have had a talent like Ryan Giggs for this long and will hopefully be able to enjoy Bale for many years. However, if the rumors are true, Bale will join Ronaldo at Real Madrid in Spain, the BPL will miss out. But don’t worry, there will always be another one; as players come and go, the cyclical nature of sports will never change.

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De Gea Proving Himself

Manchester United sit a comfy 12 points above the rest of the Barclays Premier League, are in the 5th round of the FA Cup, and just pulled off an improbable tie away at Real Madrid. There has been a variety of reasons for their success this season, from the offensive prowess of Robin van Persie, to the return of injured skipper Nemanja Vidic, and the emergence of goal keeper David De Gea.

De Dea celebrating a league victory.

De Dea celebrating a league victory.

Recently, the 22-year-old De Gea has received some of the most most venomous criticism in the English media due to his vulnerability with crosses and balls in the air. A lot of the criticism is warranted due to some poor efforts that have led to easy goals. The BPL is known as the best and most physical league in the world and when De Gea was bought by United before the 2011/2012 season, there was concern of whether he could adjust to the hieghtened coming from the Spanish La Liga. His performances were understandably up and down, however, over the past few months the keeper has matured into a world class goalie.

He might not be the best in the air, but his shot-stopping ability is second to none. When United’s defense was torn apart last year due to injuries and lack of experience, De Gea was one of the reasons they remained in the chase for the Premier League title. Acrobatic save after acrobatic save kept the Red Devils alive in crucial games. Even though they lost to bitter rivals Manchester City on the final day of the season to goal differential, he showed promising signs of things to come.

United started the season with an abysmal defensive record, allowing other teams to score first and playing catch up in the majority of their games. De Gea was benched at the beginning of this season, after a few lackluster performances, which were compounded by the poor play of his defense. We will never know if it was a true benching, or one of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s mind tricks to get the keeper back on track. When De Gea returned, he had a new mind set and confidence. This was around the same time captain Nemanja Vidic started playing regularly again and since the end of November, United is undefeated in the BPL with 5 clean sheets (12-2-0).

Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Last week in Madrid, De Gea showed how far he has come since he arrived to Manchester nearly two years ago. He was born and raised in Madrid and joined Real Madrid’s rivals, Atlético Madrid, at the age of ten. He learned his trade constantly in the shadow of his glorious neighbors. Last night was the first time he has played at Real Madrid in front of family in friends as part of the biggest club in the world, and at the age of 22, he did not disappoint.

If Manchester United advances past Real Madrid, another super power in the world of soccer, they will owe a lot of it to their young keeper. De Gea displayed a world class effort against Los Blancos at the Bernabeu. He saved the game from what could have been 3 or 4 goals for Real to a 1 goal tie. The second match will be back at home at Old Trafford and could help begin the young Spaniard’s legacy.

The season is far from over and De Gea needs to continue to progress and develop. If United are able to win two, or maybe even three titles this year, some of the critics will jump on the De Gea bandwagon. The critics won’t be the only ones to join; the Red Devil’s faithful have had a hard time accepting him due to some of his mistakes and the constant disapproval in the media.
However, in the world of sports you’re only as good as your last game, and if De Gea fails to perform in a few games this season, he be back where he started, watching from the sidelines.

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Defense? No One Said Anything About Defense?

Last weekends NFL’s Divisional Round was one of the most exciting football weekends in recent memory. On Saturday, the 49ers sent the cheese heads back to Green Bay with outstanding play from Colin Kaepernick, while the Ravens sent the Broncos to the glue factory with a Hail Mary and a late Manning interception. On Sunday, the Falcons clipped the Seahawks and withstood their ferocious rally,and the Patriots finished off the weekend by crushing the horse wranglers from Houston.

The only thing that didn’t show up last weekend was the defense. The average combined score of the games was 69 points, a huge jump compared to 38 points back in 2009. Now that the NFL has become such a pass friendly league it has become so important to have an elite quarterback, or at least have a quarterback playing at an elite level. This weeks Conference Championships offer very interesting match-ups and all of these teams deserve to be here based on last weeks performance.

Atlanta Falcons vs San Francisco 49ers



The Falcons game last weekend was a tale of two halves. In the first half, they were the powerhouse that they have been all season, which lead them to a NFL best record of 13-3. They built a commanding 20 point lead and the Seahawks looked out of it early. When the second half began, the Seahawks and the Falcons were different teams. The Seahawks went on a 28-7 run to take a late lead. Falcon’s quarterback Matt Ryan, the QB that had failed to win any “important” games, stepped up and was able to drive down the field in less than a minute and help secure the victory. The 49ers game was more back and forth until they were able to take complete control by the forth quarter. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s running ability baffled Green Bay and will present similar problems for the Falcons 21st ranked run defense.

The Niners have an explosive ground game with Frank Gore and Kaepernick. And when the read-option is working it allows for the play-action to be effective. If the Falcons are unable to stop the ground game, they don’t stand a chance. Michael Crabtree is playing like a pro-bowler and Vernon Davis offers Kaepernick a safety valve when he’s under pressure. While San Francisco’s defense kept Aaron Rodgers and the Packers generally contained, the Falcons do present a different set of problems for the 49er defense. Matt Ryan might not be as explosive as Green Bay’s Rodgers, but he has a better receiving core with Julio Jones, Roddy White and the reliable Tony Gonzalez. The Niners do have a potent pass rush lead by Aldon Smith and his 19.5 sacks, however, the biggest difference this week is the Falcons run game. The Niners beat a Packers team that had no true running back, but Atlanta posses a quality RB in Michael Turner. Turner had an off-season in regards to stats, only 800 yards rushing, but has scored over 10 touchdowns for the past 5 years and is always dangerous to break off long runs if the defense focuses to much on Jones, White and Gonzalez. These two offenses should continue their hot streak and this might turn into a shootout. It might take the 49ers a quarter or two to get into the game with their young quarterback, and that should be Atlanta’s time to strike first. If the Falcons are unable to score first, the game will still be exciting, but the Niners should come away with a double-digit victory.

San Francisco 49ers 38 Atlanta Falcons 31 

New England Patriots vs Baltimore Ravens 



The Ravens escaped Denver last weekend by the skin of their teeth. But when the game was on the line they got one last interception out of their aging legendary defense, and were able to book their ticket to New England. The Ravens shouldn’t need any more motivation, but facing the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year makes this game all the more tantalizing. Baltimore is going to need a big game from their offense to pull this one out. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had an impressive game last week (18/34, 331 yards, and 3 touchdowns) and will need to have a similar one to keep up with the Patriots and Tom Brady. If Flacco can throw for a percentage closer to 65%, as opposed to the 53% last weekend, the Ravens will be set up to control the ball and be put in more manageable distance downs. Ray Rice ran for 131 yards on the ground last week against Denver’s 3rd ranked rushing defense, and he should be able to continue that dominance against the Patriots 9th ranked rushing defense. Rice’s success on the ground keeps New England’s defense on the field and takes pressure of Flacco. Baltimore is going to have their backs against the wall this week in one of the most hostile stadiums in the league.

The Patriots continued their current form and were able to handle Houston’s early attempts to make it a game last weekend. But as the game went on, it was clear that Houston was just not there yet, although you can’t help but wonder if Brian Cushing were back it would of been a different story. The Patriots once again relied heavily on the arm of Tom Brady to carry them and he didn’t disappoint. They will follow the same formula this week with their short yardage passes to open up deeper passing lanes later in the game. Any team would miss the presence of record setting tight end Rob Gronkowski, but Aaron Hernandez has shown that he is more than capable. The Pats running game isn’t anything to boast about, but Stevan Ridley has the ability to gash any defense. They shouldn’t be able to get to 41 in this game, and if Baltimore is able to hold onto the ball and keep the Pats under 30 points, they should be able to pull this one off. The Ravens will be lead by their emotional leader Ray Lewis, and should pull off the upset in this one.

Baltimore Ravens 34 New England Patriots 28

The Conference Championships should follow the same script as the Divisional Round, an ample amount of offense and the defense making game changing plays at the end. All of these teams deserve a spot in the Super Bowl, but there’s only space for two.

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Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?

If you were a professional athlete and could get away with using performance-enhancing drugs, would you do it? I would like to say I wouldn’t, but these days I’m not so sure anymore.

Courtesy of NBC Sports

Courtesy of NBC Sports

Lance Armstrong is the latest disgraced athlete to admit to using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his illustrious cycling career. The news was expected after the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) 1000-page report which was released last year. According to the report, “hotel rooms were transformed into blood banks as riders were given late-night transfusions, doctors were paid off and competitors were warned about tests in advance.” Armstrong was later stripped of his 7 Tour de France medals, given a life-ban from racing and basically forced out of his Livestrong cancer foundation. He now faces a number of lawsuits and legal issues from years of denied doping and legal action that he took against people and organizations that accused him of cheating. Based on the current legal cases, he is going to be liable for substantial amount, but for someone worth $125 million, he should be alright.

So is using PEDs worth it?

Armstrong had less than a 50% chance of survival when his testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain. He wasn’t supposed to live, let alone compete in the grueling world of professional cycling. His entire life was cycling, and soon his passion and livelihood would be gone. Would you not be tempted to dope? Cycling was far from being a clean sport when Armstrong made his comeback. While many other competitors were disqualified for for testing positive, you have to assume at the time, many more got away with it.

Courtesy of PA Images

Courtesy of PA Images

So Armstrong went back to cycling and had legendary success. He won the hardest and most prestigious cycling race 7 times. Not once or twice, but 7 times. Maybe he could have got away with it had he kept it to 2 or 3, but that’s a different story. He built a multi-million dollar brand and started an extremely well-known and successful charitable organization. If he didn’t use anything, would he have had the some success? Of course not. Hate him or love him for what he did on a bike, Armstrong founded a charity organization that is responsible for raising nearly $500 million for cancer. They have worked with over 550 organizations worldwide fighting cancer and helping cancer survivors. Along with the financial support, Livestrong has provided a priceless amount of exposure and publicity to the battle against cancer.

I can never condone someone for blatantly cheating. Then to follow that by fighting for years and years, trying to prove his innocence, while losing friends and support, and then to finally confess to Oprah. But before Armstrong is vilified for what he did, cheating in a sport that was riddled with cheaters, ask yourself, what would you have done? Remember that this started before the use of steroids was general knowledge in baseball. Before the public wanted all of our sports clean. Why wouldn’t you take PEDs? Because it’s unethical, sure, but the rest of the competitive field is using them. They destroy your body, not much of a concern for someone who just came back from cancer, and is the only life he knows. I’m not saying what he did was right, but I can see myself being tempted as well.

Courtesy of the AP

Courtesy of the AP

But why confess now of all times? It could do with him being past his statute of limitations for perjury when he denied using illegal performance enhancers under oath, but that was past back in 2010. I believe he’s confessing to avoid the same fate of Pete Rose. Rose was an all-time great baseball player, banned for life for gambling on baseball games. Rose denied for years and years until eventually coming clean 14 years later, after he had been forgotten. Armstrong is now on the path of redemption. He faces a difficult task because unlike athletes, like Michael Vick, who won support by continuing to play his sport well, Armstrong is retired from pro cycling. He can’t show the world that he can do it without the drugs. He doesn’t have the same problem as Rose because his name still has so much public pull. It has been said that he is working with the USADA to point out other athletes that have been doping, and that’s a start.

No matter how much he is able to help clean up sports, he will never get back his championships and titles. But at the end of the day, he used drugs in a drug filled sport and came out a $100 millionaire and an international icon. Wouldn’t you do the same?

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50% Of The Time, I’m Right 100% of the Time

Wild Card weekend is over and it’s time for the heavy hitters to step on the gridiron. This weekend offers a lot of intriguing story lines. From the quarterback who was never supposed to play again ,to the legendary linebacker playing in his last playoffs, and an overachieving rookie leading his team past all who stand in their way. These divisional match-ups should be thrilling.

Denver Broncos vs Baltimore Ravens



Peyton Manning is finally playing on a team that has a respectable defense. Having a defense that ranks 2nd in total yards and 4th in total points, alleviates a lot of pressure on the offense. The Ravens handled Manning’s former team (Indianapolis Colts) last weekend, but they are now facing a more well-rounded team. Since returning from career threatening neck surgery, Manning hasn’t skipped a beat being placed in a new offense. He has the 2nd most passing yards (4,659) and touchdowns (37) of his career, while posting a quarterback rating of 105.8. The Ravens are flying high with the return of their emotional and defensive leader, Ray Lewis. However, they are an average team on the road (4-4) and the Broncos have only lost one game at Mile High (7-1), back in week 3 to Houston. The Ravens should put up a good fight behind Ray Rice, but his recent fumbling issues are troubling. If Baltimore plays a clean game, and their defense is able to create 2 or more turnovers, they could come out on top. However, the Broncos have won 11 in a row, and should make it 12 come Saturday.

Broncos 31 Ravens 24

San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers



This game will be either the most exciting, or biggest letdown of the week. The Packers are back in full swing, and if the 49ers aren’t careful, the game could be over at halftime. Green Bay sent a message to the rest of the league last week with the way they handled Minnesota. The Vikings were coming into the playoffs with a 4 game winning streak, yet were out of the game early in the second half. The 49ers still have an intimidating defense that has allowed the 2nd fewest points. However, their offense is more of an issue. After controversy at quarterback this year, the Niners need a competent starter to handle the 2nd best pass rushing attack in the league. If Frank Gore and the ground game can get field position and control the clock, it will take some pressure off the passing game, and keep the ball away from Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has been on fire, launching three or more touchdown passes in the final three weeks of the season, and posting a QB rating of 104.9 against the Vikings last week. The 49ers defense will present a number of problems for Rodgers, and because his team has a weak ground game, he will be forced to air it out. The 49ers need a few great plays from their defense to pull this one off. This will be a close game, but the Packers should come out on top.

Packers 24 Niners 20

Atlanta Falcons vs Seattle Seahawks



Is this the year that the Falcons and Matt Ryan can finally get a postseason win? The simple answer, no. Ryan and the Falcons had a great regular season and come into the playoffs with the best record in the NFL. Seven out of their 13 wins were by a touchdown or less, so they know how to win the close ones. Ryan and his receivers are having career years, and rank 6th for total passing yards. However, there are a few red flags that their record doesn’t show. Michael Turner and the rushing game had an off-year and rank 29th in the league. Unlike Green Bay, Falcons haven’t had much success in the playoffs, so relying just on their passing game is going to put immense pressure on Ryan. Their defense also instills a “bend, but don’t break” policy. They rank 23rd and 21st in passing (242.4) and rushing (123.2) yards allowed, but are 7th best in total points allowed (26.2). On the other-hand the Seahawks are coming in with a lot of momentum. While they do have a poor road record (3-5), they showed last weekend they can play in a hostile environment by scoring 24 unanswered points last week in Washington. The Seahawks obvious strength is their defense. The defense was the best in the league, allowing the fewest points (15.3) and 4th fewest total yards (306.2). This allows rookie Russell Wilson, who is playing like a seasoned pro, some leeway to make some mistakes. Marshawn Lynch should also help put Wilson with more manageable short distance downs. If Wilson limits his mistakes and the Seahawks can knock Ryan around at the beginning of the game, they should be able to pull off the upset at the Georgia Dome and continue the Falcons struggles in the playoffs.

Seahawks 27 Falcons 17

New England Patriots vs Houston Texans



The Texans are heading to Gillette Stadium after a close game with the Bengals last weekend. Matt Schaub struggled in the beginning of his playoff debut, but was able to fight off his nerves as the game went on. This Sunday, Schaub and the Texans are going against similar defense, but a much better offense in New England. The Texans know the Pats well after being crushed 42-14, in week 14. This game shouldn’t get that out of hand, but Houston will need a career game out of J.J. Watt and Arian Foster to give them a chance. If Watt, or another Houston defender, can create a few turnovers that lead to easy points, anything is possible. Tom Brady and the Pats are coming into the playoffs winning 9 of their last 10 games. They have an all-time great in Brady, an above average defense allowing 20.7 points a game, and one of the best coaches of all-time in Bill Belichick. Houston needs to catch a few breaks, or get an early lead to put the pressure on New England. However, the Patriots should prove too much for them, and should win comfortably.

Patriots 31 Texans 20

This weekend offers a lot of exciting variety in the type of games we can expect. The Falcons and Patriots against the underdog Seahawks and Texans. The Ravens at Broncos and Packers at Niners games look like closer games on paper, but playoff football always offers a few surprises.

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How The West Was Won?

A power-shift is taking place in Major League Baseball.

This hasn’t happened overnight. The Texas Rangers have been a title contender for a number of years now, but other teams are starting to join them. And they’re taking a page out of their free-spending East Coast rivals book.

ARODThe perennial powerhouses in New York and Boston are struggling and fighting amongst themselves. The Yankees had the largest payroll by over $22 million, and bombed out of the playoffs. They have an aging lineup with the majority of the team in their 30’s, with a few in their 40’s. Things aren’t going to get better anytime soon, as their biggest contracts are still locked up for years, and most of those players are at the tail-end of their careers. Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are all coming back from surgery, and due to make over $50 million dollars combined. Those three players nearly cover the entire Oakland Athletics team payroll.

bobbyvThe Red Sox aren’t in any better shape with their third manager in as many years. Additionally, they traded away fan favorite Kevin Youkilis, after former manager Bobby Valentine questioned his commitment to the team. They started 2012 with a splash acquiring free agents Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. But Crawford’s terrible early season form, followed by injuries lead to him to be labeled a bust and a villain to the Red Sox faithful. Not soon after the Red Sox had a fire sale, and shipped Gonzalez, Crawford and Josh Becket to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This wasn’t a bad move for the Sox because it allowed them to clear over $250 million dollars off their books. However, these are steps for rebuilding and are taking the Sox out of contention next season.

Where the Yankees and Red Sox have taken a step back, the Los Angeles Angles and Dodgers are picking up the slack.

The Los Angeles Angels introduce their newly acquired players Pujols and Wilson in AnaheimThe Angels made headlines last year by signing Albert Pujols to a 10 year contract worth $240 million. They reinforced their starting rotation by signing Texas Rangers all-star pitcher C.J. Wilson. The Angels followed this with a mid-season pick up of former Cy Young winner Zach Greinke. Pujols had an off-year by his standards, and the Angels disappointed by not even reaching the playoffs. They did lose some big name pitchers in the off-season, like Greinke to the Dodgers, and Dan Haren to the Washington Nationals. However, they reloaded in a big way by adding former MVP Josh Hamilton. Hamilton has had injury problems over the years, but there is no denying his ability when he’s healthy on the field. Over the past three seasons, he has hit 25+ home runs, nearly 100 RBI’s, with a batting average of .285, and that’s while missing a number of games. Hamilton’s numbers should improve as he is protected in a line-up that includes: former MVP Albert Pujols, MVP runner-up Mike Trout, and Home Run Derby participant Mark Trumbo. He shouldn’t have the same adjusting period as Pujols, who moved from the National League to the American League, because he is staying in the AL West division. The Angels still need some help in the bullpen. The recently signed Joe Blanton and Sean Burnett should help, but some more moves could be on the horizon to help improve the 18th best earned run average (ERA) in the MLB. With the past two years signings, the Angels have shot up the payroll list and are estimated to fork out more than $175 million dollars next year.

The noise the Angels made seems like whispers compared to the uproar the Dodgers made.

Courtesy of The LA Times

Courtesy of The LA Times

In the beginning of last year the Dodgers were a mess. Their owner was going through a messy divorce, which led the MLB to take over operations for the club. However, owner Frank McCourt pulled off the sale, or robbery, of the century. He was able to sell the team, on the verge of bankruptcy, for not $1, but $2 billion dollars, to a group that included Irvin “Magic” Johnson. After the sale, the new ownership wanted to make some waves. They raided the Red Sox for Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett. They added high-profile shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the always giving Florida Marlins. They bolstered their bullpen, by signing Greinke and Korean lefty Hyun-jin Ryu. The spending spree was skyrocketed by a television deal, which rivals that of their east coast counterparts. The Dodgers payroll at the beginning of 2012’s season was $114 million, and has now gone up to $207.9 million in 2013. Don’t be surprised if they add a few more names to their already impressive roster.

Money doesn’t always equal championships. The Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Sabres all had the highest payrolls in their respective sports in 2012. Yet none of them won a championship. So while nothing is guaranteed for the Angels or Dodgers, one thing is evident, the West Coast is establishing itself as the new power in baseball.

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Football: Tough Sport Or Just Poor Man’s Rugby?

Football is not for the weak or easily intimidated.

The National Football League had over 170 head injuries in 2011 alone.

However, being exposed to rugby, I have to say rugby has to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, game in the world.

This isn’t a post about whether you’re more of a “man” if you play one or the other. And no matter which one you play, they’re both violent and can lead to some serious injuries. This is just about a few differences.

More pads,harder hits

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

Yes, football players hit harder. Before you agree or disagree, hear me out.

Being covered from head to toe in pads allows you to use your body with reckless abandonment  The hits in football have gotten so violent and dangerous that the National Football League had to change the way the game is played. This has left a certain void in the NFL because the games aren’t as exciting as they used to be, but it should lead to less head injuries and less tragic stories linked to those injuries. Rugby players typically do not have the run up that football players do, a safety can have a 15 yard full speed sprint before he collides with another player. Rugby players generally know when they’re about to get tackled. They can prepare themselves mentally and physically. However, football players, whether their on offense or defense, get blind sided a few times a game.

The hits are harder, but they hurt less. This isn’t to say they don’t hurt or you can’t get injured in football, but rugby leaves you hurting more the next day. Next time you watch a rugby game keep an eye on players in a scrum or ruck. Players get stomped and punched and no one looks twice. And because you have the same players on the field for 80+ minutes, players tend to get more tired and can’t recharge after each dead ball, like in football. However, you won’t see as many serious injuries in rugby because they don’t wear pads. Sounds counter-intuitive, but because they don’t wear pads it forces rugby players to make more fundamentally sound tackles.

More strategy, less all rounders

Galleo Images

Courtsey of Galleo Images

Football has more strategy and more specialists, but not as many athletes. Once again, hear me out.

Every single down in football has a called play on offense, defense and special teams. There is never a time in a game where players just do their own thing like you would in the park with friends. There are audibles, changing the play right before the ball is hiked, but it isn’t a free-for-all, it’s just replacing one specific play with another specific play. There are so many different formations and schemes on offense and defense, like bringing in extra linemen to catch the defense with a smaller and less physical defense back still on the field. On the other side of the ball, gone are the days of the simple defense. Defenses consist of hybrid systems of zone and man-to-man coverages mixed in with a variety of blitzes. All of these strategies are constructed to try to catch one team out of position.

Of course rugby has strategy too. There are a number of different techniques and formations interwoven into the free-flowing game. There are situational strategies like lineouts and scrums, and techniques like dummies, switches and loops, and you have to make sure your defense is always in a strong formation. However, there is just not as much strategy or play-calling. The reason is because rugby doesn’t stop as often as football does.

Courtesy of Inside the Playbook

Courtesy of Inside the Playbook

Playing constantly for two 40 minute halves is grueling and exhausting. All 15 rugby players stay on the field the whole time, barring injury or substitution. The same players are on offense, defense and kick (special teams). Each player does have a position and a general skill set, but for the most part they can be interchangeable. In today’s football, you would be hard-pressed to find a team that has more than two players playing who can play both offense and defense. Each player has a very specific skill set, and there might be a player who plays corner back and plays a little receiver, but you will never see a quarterback on the other side of the ball. This would explain why there is such a variety of athletes on a football team. Rugby does also has a variety of sizes and weights, but you don’t see many players over 250 pounds (113 kg). In today’s NFL, a lineman would seem out-of-place if he didn’t weigh over 330+ pounds(151 kg). That is why rugby players, as a whole, are in a lot better shape.

Different, not better

There will be endless comparisons between the two sports since football does get its origins from rugby. It’s a lot like comparing baseball to cricket, the playing surface and equipment share similarities, but the actual games are completely different. So whether you strap on the pads or get ready for a scrum, just be ready for a physically intense game.

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Step Right Up and Take Your Pick

Seeing that I’ve been out of the states nearly 4 months and haven’t seen any live football in 2, this could get interesting and will be completely accurate.

Cincinnati vs Houston

Houston 24 Cincinnati 20



I have been pleasantly surprised all season by Cincy. They have surpassed all my expectations and this will not be an easy game for Houston. The Bengals have won more games on the road than at home (6-2 away) so they won’t be afraid to play in Texas. Dalton and Green have combined to be one of the most prolific tandems in the league and should pose a serious threat. However, the Texans have too many weapons on both sides of the ball. Houston is built for the playoffs with an all-pro running back in Arian Foster and an all-time great in Andre Johnson. The defense might give up a few points in this one, but the only real concern for Houston is their own quarterback, Matt Schaub. This will be Schaub’s first postseason start and they haven’t exactly ended the season with a lot of momentum. This should be a really exciting game and should go down to the wire with Houston coming out on top.

Minnesota vs Green Bay

Green Bay 31 Minnesota 17



Adrian Peterson is a monster, we all know it, but unfortunately for the Vikings, that won’t be enough this week. AP was able to give his team the final push last week against the Packers, but this game won’t come down to him. AP has had his way with the Packers defense for years now running for over 175 yards 4 times. All logical wisdom would say Green Bay is in trouble, but they’re not. Of all the games this weekend, I see this one being the closet to a blowout. Green Bay has too much experience and talent to lose this one, and being that the NFL is a passing league it never hurts to have one of the best in the business in Rodgers. On other side of the field stands the reason why the Vikings are in trouble, Christian Ponder. Ponder will have to play the best game of his life to beat the Packers and that still might not be enough. He played great last week, but that wasn’t the playoffs and that wasn’t in the legendary Lambeau Field. The score might not be completely out of hand, but the game will be well in the Packers control.

Indianapolis vs Baltimore

Baltimore 17 Colts 10



The Colts this year have been somewhat of an anomaly. They gut most of their talent from front office to the field, pick up a rookie quarterback to replace a legend, and their head coach falls seriously ill and misses most of the season. And now the team that “sucked for Luck” is in the playoffs. However, I see the fairy tale coming to an abrupt halt. Luck has played years ahead of the curve but still shows signs of being a rookie and the Colts still aren’t good enough to advance yet. There are holes in both experience and talent on all sides of the ball and they play like a different team out of the dome (4-4 away). The Ravens have been another strange team this year. Beginning this season they were seen as one of the favorites to win it all and throughout the season they have dipped in form due to poor play and injuries. However, they are another team that play well at home (6-2 at home) and with Ray Lewis coming back for his final run before he hangs up his pads, the Ravens have their emotional leader back. Baltimore also had the luxury of resting its work horse, Ray Rice, last week so he will be fresh. This will be another close and physical battle, but the Ravens should prevail.

Seattle vs Washington

Washington 13 Seattle 10



Saving the best for last, this is the game that is the most intriguing to me. Two rookie quarterbacks far surpassing expectations with solid teams around them. RGIII and Russell Wilson have been fantastic this year. However, Seattle have really struggled playing on the road this season (3-5 away). They stumble without the support of their fans and struggle with the noise of others. As great as the young QB’s have been, this game will rely on both teams ground game. Marshawn Lynch was as potent as ever gaining nearly 1,600 yards on the ground and another 200 through the air. He will present the biggest problem to the Redskins, just as rookie Alfred Morris should present an equal problem for the Seahawks. This shouldn’t be a high scoring game due to new quarterbacks and stellar defenses. This should be an old-fashioned possession game, but don’t be surprised by a flash of brilliance by one of the rookies. This game will come down to either one critical mistake or some kind of special team play.

There you have it. The home teams should take it this weekend. Those are the predictions from a guy who is currently 10,000 miles away from football. Looks like it’s going to be a late night or an early morning with that 10 hour time zone difference.

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The Enigma of Michael Vick and Tim Tebow

M. Vick

Courtesy of USA Today

Michael Vick and Tim Tebow are the same but equally opposite.

I have always been fascinated with Vick and Tebow’s stories. Sure, Vick’s is coming to a close and it has had a lot more dramatic ups and downs, but there are certain similarities I just can’t seem to shake.

Vick came out of school as a once in a lifetime talent. He was lighting fast, had a massive arm and seemed to have all the right tools to win. He did have some off the field problems, but that isn’t unheard of. I mean, who wouldn’t have gotten into a little trouble when you’re treated like royalty as a kid in college. He was highly sought after when he came into the NFL, and even though he didn’t put up great numbers he was exciting and fans loved to watch him.

Then there’s Tebow. The born captain, who got his name for leading his team, a perennial powerhouse, to two championships. He was loud, strong and charismatic. You always hear about it, but he had the intangibles. The kind of things you can’t describe but make people winners. He never thought twice to stand up in front of his teammates, coaches and media and rally his troops. However, even though he had more success in college than Vick he was treated as a lost cause when he came to the NFL. Anyone who saw him during his workouts could see why. He had all the red flags you don’t want your quarterback to have, he takes too long to throw the ball and he has a serious lack of power and accuracy. But the Broncos picked him up and we know how that went.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

Here’s what I found interesting about these two men. Being that they are both unorthodox left-handed quarterbacks that rely on their feet in different ways, Vick’s speed and Tebow’s power, they are at the same point but just at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Vick was always given praise coming into the NFL. His talents he acquired naturally and through hard work always outshone his other issues. As a young player he didn’t read defenses well, he couldn’t stand in the pocket, he didn’t lead his team. Of course he did have success winning so it didn’t matter, especially in sports. Vick’s spectacular downfall from superstar to criminal is something that can only be rivaled by Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant. I know Vick did his time and is working hard for dog related organizations and charities, but the damage has been done. Or should I say was done.

When Vick came back to the NFL people hated him. Many wanted him locked away for good for what he was involved in. However, as bad as his crimes, in sports, especially in America, as long as you win things are forgiven. There are countless stories of people screwing up, but were successful at their profession so it made up for it. America loves tragic stories, but that doesn’t compare to how much we love comeback stories. Vick took a page out of Kobe’s book. For better or worse, once he outed McNabb from the Eagles he was that electrifying player we missed and no longer the convict.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

Of course then there’s Tebow. Who was taken by a struggling team with a journeyman quarterback and was seen as a marketing move opposed to a professional one, much like the Jets trade. After getting a chance to show what he could do, because of the fans chanting his name whenever he was near the field, he became the starter in Denver. He wasn’t as electric as Vick, but he did what was most important, he won. He didn’t play well for 3 1/2 quarters but when the game was on the line he same how got the ball in the end zone. Tebow couldn’t really throw the ball or read defenses, but the Broncos for some reason or another just seemed to click when they needed too. When the Broncos beat the Steelers in the playoffs Tebow should have been solidified as the starting quarterback for at least the next year, most other franchises would have done it, let alone a struggling one. I understand why the Broncos did what they did in signing Manning and losing Tebow, but had it been Vick instead of Tebow, I believe Manning would be playing for the 49ers .

The media craze around both of these players has been legendary, obviously for different reasons. One is the ultra-talented fallen star redemption story and the other is the prodigal leader that always gets undercut. The media have hurt and helped both of them in very different ways. Vick was sky rocketed by the media coming out of college and was equally shot down after the scandals came out. Tebow was already shot down and seen as a bust before he stepped on the field and once he started winning no one could talk about anything else. Whether you loved him or hated him Tebow was a national conversation for months. Of course as time went on, Vick was brought back to the pinnacles of high achieving sports superstars and Tebow was sent to ride the bench and occasionally trip over a lineman’s foot if he got called in to run the wildcat.

But as fate would have it, Vick has been struggling all season and Tebow has been cast aside by a joke of a New York Jets team. It would seem fitting for a veteran and experienced Vick to head to the bright lights of NY and Tebow to head back to his home state to take a group of no names to prominence. No matter how their stories unfold, these two men no matter how different they are, seem to be equally the same.

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